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CT Scans Reveal Brutal Injuries On Pharaoh Ramesses III


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMar 24 2016, 17:20 UTC
572 CT Scans Reveal Brutal Injuries On Pharaoh Ramesses III
Photograph of Ramesses III taken in 1912. Wikimedia Commons/G. Elliot Smith

Ancient Egypt isn’t known for its happy families. To add to the macabre history, a recent set of imaging scans has shown that the story of Ramesses III’s death is a tale of political opera and betrayal, juicier than any episode of “Game of Thrones.”

The newly performed computed tomography (CT) scans on the mummified remains of Ramesses III suggest that his death was even more brutal than previously thought.


It has long been assumed that the Pharaoh – who ruled between 1186 BCE and 1155 BCE – was killed by having his throat slit, most likely in a group assassination plot led by one of his “secondary” wives, Tiye, to get her son, Pentawere, on the throne.

This theory about his assassination started with papyrus court documents detailing his gruesome death and the traitorous plot that led to it. However, the documents could not be proved as true when his remains were discovered in the 1800s at Madīnat Habu in Thebes (modern-day Luxor). Then, in 2012, an initial set of CT scans backed up these findings by confirming his trachea and esophagus had been severed.

Now, CT scans of his mummified remains have led researchers to believe he could have been the victim of numerous attackers. Bizarrely, one of his toes appears to have been fractured and hacked off with an axe or a weapon considerably more blunt than the one used to slit his throat. The unhealed state of the injury also suggests it was obtained very shortly before his death.


Ornately decorated columns at Ramesses III’s tomb in Luxor, Egypt. Image credit: inchiki tour/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

However, the plot thickens. Rather suspiciously, the lopped-off toe was covered in exceptionally thick layers of linen and resin. The researchers believe that the embalmers made a conscious effort to hide the injury. Their plan seemed to have worked – until now. When the mummy was discovered in the 19th century, an authority at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo found the layer was too thick to penetrate, so he just let it be.  

Why exactly they were trying to hide the toe remains unclear. However, what Egyptologists and historians do know is that the coup d’état by his wife failed. Court documents reveal that Tiye, Pentaweret, and the other conspirators involved were subsequently brought to trial and convicted for the murder of Ramesses III.


These findings have recently been written up in a book by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and radiologist Sahar Saleem called "Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies."

[H/T: Live Science]

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